Island Life by David Slack

Know Your Place

I drove into the timber yard the other day and realised it was the first time I'd been there in more than a year. There was a time when I used to be in there just about every Saturday. We've been in the same house for 13 years now, and there isn't one corner of it we haven't built, demolished, extended or retrofitted at some point. We got professionals in for the big work, but I did all kinds of smaller projects along the way - flooring, paving, building fences, that kind of thing. At the time, I thought it was quite tiring work, but I was mistaken - we hadn't yet become parents.

There was a routine to it. First I'd get myself set up, then I'd go out to get what I needed from Devonport Timber, or Firths, or Placemakers, or the Resene Shop, or McEntee Hire. Then I'd get back home all fired up and tear into it. Within an hour, there'd usually be a good amount of wreckage piled up, and a cloud of dust, which would vary in colour, but would be pretty consistent in terms of density and dispersement.

The first few times this happened, it created, shall we say, tension in the household. Karren would look across the scene with an expression that suggested something less than unbridled enthusiasm. We differ in temperament in this respect. She'll tell you I have the optimism of someone who can fall from the top of a tall building with his thumbs up as he hurtles past each floor calling out Okay so far! She, on the other hand can sometimes take a glass is half empty and the tonic's flat point of view.

But the story always had a happy ending. I'd get to the end of the day, or weekend, everything would be back in its place and the job would be done, bright and shiny and almost like a bought one.

A ritual developed.
I'd say: Come and look at this.
She'd say: It's great.
I'd say: See?
After a while, the chaos stage acquired its own ritual. She'd get that aghast look on her face and I'd remind her: What always happens? You get that look on your face. And what do you always end up saying at the end?

It looks great she'd say wearily. So she'd walk away with her fingers crossed, hope for the best, and I'd work out how to do the job properly so I could keep my promise.

Which brings me around once again to our friend Dr Brash. Look, I'm not down on him, really I'm not. Ask any of my friends. I was saying two years ago that he'd make a good leader for the National Party. How they laughed. But look at him go now. That doesn't mean I buy his Treaty argument, though, and there's nothing in the Northern Club speech that's changed my point of view.

The more I look at this one law for all New Zealanders line, the more it disturbs me. What it's really saying is my way or the highway. It's playing on the growing anxiety people are feeling about the whole idea of biculturalism. The more they see changes being made to the old familiar hierarchy, the more nervous they get.

They don't like, to quote Dr Brash, such things as:

Cultural safety in nursing
Bilingual rebranding of the public sector
Treaty issues getting tangled up in health and safety audits
Claims of taniwhas being used to block developments
Consultations with iwi being required in relation to resource management consents, and even to scientific research in universities
The anomaly of Maori Parliamentary seats being expanded into local body politics and now to the representation on PHOs

I'll look at these individually in a moment, but first, I want to consider the broader context. This is what I think is happening: The floorboards have been torn up, there's dust everywhere, and while some of us are happy to tear into the job, Don's Army are looking at the upheaval and saying: I liked it the way it was.

This is the kind of thing I imagine John Tamihere was describing when he talked about the hard yards of nation building. If you look just at the upheaval, you might get the idea that things are in chaos and will only get worse, but if you do, you'll be ignoring the prospects that when the job's done, things will actually be better than they were at the start.

You can get grudging acceptance from most Pakeha about the justice of Treaty reparations (although I wouldn't want to overstate that, either, judging by some of the emails I've had in the past few weeks) but once you get on to other Treaty obligations, you strike a whole lot more unease.

I think the unease is unwarranted. Moreover, to take this position, you have to choose to ignore what the law says, and what morality asks of us.

Dr Brash asks:

Can we really believe that this simple 19th century treaty, which focused on sovereignty, property rights and citizenship, also has something to say about today's SOEs and national parks, today's schools and universities, how we go about approving or declining building permits, what science we should study, or how we should regard the new frontier of genetic science?

Let's answer that with another version of the same question: Can we really believe the United States Constitution had something to say about airline travel, stem cell research, or American Idol ? No. But if you wind up in the Supreme Court in litigation to do with one of those aspects of contemporary American life, and find a reason to invoke some right or another under the constitution, the court won't say Get outta here. They weren't thinking of that when they wrote the constitution. Their constitution contemplated the need for people to work together harmoniously in a civil society, as did this document. That is not to say the Treaty is a constitution, but it's hard to claim that it didn't have in mind the harmonious cooperation of the two signatories to the treaty, in circumstances unforeseeable in 1840.

What does the Court of Appeal have to say about this? In essence, that the Government has a specific legal and historical partnership with Maori. Maori hold special rights under Article 2 of the Treaty. The Government has a duty of care and, arguably, a duty to consult with Maori on matters that could not be known in 1840. Colin James ( in a very interesting lecture here) mentions the interpretation by Michael Cullen that Article 2 protects more than a "list of possessions". It protects taonga. "That makes the Treaty a living document where new applications or implications may arise as circumstances change."

That last point seems to rattle Don's Army: a moving target. And yet that's what we have going on in our courts every day. Old common law principles get applied to new situations. Government enacts new laws to keep our practice in line with undertakings we've made under international treaties. Circumstances change, and as they do, we adjust our laws according to longstanding and continuing obligations. Scary stuff? Not really, just something you have to get used to, and become familiar with. Old institutions are familiar and cosy, new ones are unsettling.

For the largest part of this country's Treaty history, one partner has had a great deal more voice than the other, and a great deal more power. It's easy to claim you're a proud supporter of a partnership when your side's calling most of the shots, and has control of the wheel most of the time. The test comes when the other partner gets a hand on the wheel. Once people start to see that Bicultural can mean handing over some of the power you held all to yourself, you see them getting uneasy.

Where will it end? People ask, thinking to themselves: They want to run the whole show.

I think they should fret less. The partners to the Treaty just want a fair shake. We've made some good progress. Giving more voice to the other partner and sharing more power has brought about some impressive changes. Maori business, Maori culture, Maori language, are all much stronger than they were one and two decades ago. The renaissance has given many Maori a new sense of purpose and possibility and they're taking advantage of it. Why would you want to undermine that?

When you look at Ngai Tahu trebling the value of their Treaty settlement, do you feel excited about that or not? When you see greater numbers of Maori students in the tertiary system than ever before, do you feel more or less confident about the future? When you see a flourishing Maori culture in our schools, and kids engaged by it and more motivated to learn, do you see that as a good or bad thing? Wouldn't you like to see that expanding throughout Maoridom?

This hasn't happened in a vacuum. Power sharing has helped to make that happen - it's given Maori more confidence and fresh purpose. I'm not meaning to romanticise this: any power sharing takes a lot of work and negotiation. But when you push this one law for all New Zealanders line, you're really saying: Hands off the wheel, pal. We don't want biculturalism and we don't want to share any power with you.

What is unreasonable about Maori asking as partners: Support our identity, reflect our cultural values and practices, try to speak our language.

What is unrealistic about asking: Let us create our own institutions. Let's look at some of the things these power-mad Maori have got up to. Kaupapa Maori education, from pre-school through to tertiary levels, is making huge advances. In health, there are now over 70 iwi and Maori organisations funded specifically to provide mental health services. Child and family services that place children who need care and protection with members of the whanau are also growing. Some of these services end up dealing with the most difficult cases, the ones that mainstream providers can't cope with.

These kinds of initiatives promote self-sufficiency and independence - that's power sharing. How is it not a good thing?

Now, you can deride Cultural safety in nursing, but if you do, you're saying you don't accept that it might ever be helpful for nurses to have an understanding of national and local issues and their impact on health. Maori would like government agencies to engage with them on their terms. Cultural safety programmes make that possible.

You can deride Bilingual rebranding of the public sector, but if you do, you're saying you don't accept that a simple means of making people more familiar with the Maori language might enrich our culture a little. Being unnerved by a logo seems to me a bit of an overreaction.

You can mock Claims of taniwhas being used to block developments, but in doing it, you're making a pretty big deal out of something that was, as Russell has correctly identified, quickly remedied. Moreover, if you want to be ideologically consistent, you'd better be ready to approve 24-hour trading over Easter, brothels being set up next door to churches and tearing down any white crosses that get in the way of roadworks.

And then we have these questions of Treaty issues getting tangled up in health and safety audits, and Consultations with iwi being required in relation to resource management consents, and even to scientific research in universities. At first blush, you can see the point. I got a thoughtful email from a reader a couple of weeks ago, which said:

In my field we make transgenic organisms. The HSNO act applies to our work and ERMA manages our work. Local panels assess planned experiments to determine safety and to ensure the work is done in a responsible ethical way. Those panels include Maori representatives. Do you have any idea why - because I don't.

As you might expect the Maori are uninformed about the work they are assessing so we ran a day long seminar to inform them, something we are happy to do for anyone. They still remain relatively uninformed yet we are required to have them at the meetings and to pay for their travel…

It's not the resolution of inequities that bothers me. I'm as puzzled and disturbed as anyone by the dearth of Maori scientists and anything that can be done reasonably to resolve those issues should be done…

There is now an assumption that the opinion of the Maori matters in every issue above and beyond their opinion as humans like the rest of us - that bothers me. In some cases that opinion is enshrined in the bureaucracy (not necessarily in law) and sometimes that position is being abused...

There are a few elements to this. The first, I think is that any new process takes some bedding in. If it's abused, that needs to be called to account, and I think with an ever-ready media looking for scandal, you can guarantee a watchdog function.

Secondly, there is the principle of the thing as so many of the foam-flecked emails I've had on this subject like to remind me. Well, how about this principle: the Crown has obligations to its Treaty partner which it is able to discharge in part by asking you, as a recipient of its funding, to collaborate with iwi. But that's taking the negative point of view. There are some interesting examples of Crown organisations who've spent some time thinking about making the most of the partnership and finding a productive way forward.

Take a look at this work by Landcare Research. What becomes clear as you read it is that once they find themselves having been brought together, the participants ask: how can we find a way to make this productive for everyone involved? And as soon as you ask that question, you start coming up with interesting answers about building capacity, identifying employment and training opportunities and sharing insights to name just a few.

This kind of collaboration breaks new ground. I don't think you can say for certain what will come of it in the long run, but the sense you get from reading that material is that it's quite likely to produce some worthwhile results. I'd be very interested to hear from anyone who's been involved in a process of this kind - stories of success or failure. The REPLY button's just down there.

John Tamihere is right - we are putting in the hard yards of nation building at the moment. This really is no time to quit.